"Gran Torino" is a film that we wish with all our hearts would work, but it doesn't quite. And the reason is Clint Eastwood, who directed the film and is its main character. Or I should say that the reason is Walt Kowalski, Eastwood's character. Walt (we'll call him Walt because everyone else in the film ends up calling him that) is a man whose frustrations with his life and guilt about certain of his actions have been bottled up for so long that he no longer has grace - that old theological word that means anything from an ability to take an interest in other people, or the world, or the news - anything, in fact, that would give his one-dimensional cardboard cutout at least a fighting chance at possessing another dimension to his personality. Instead he just growls, he curses, he calls his Hmong neighbors anything bad he can think of. And let me say that the audience at the screening I attended just loved every one of his ethnic insults. What does that say? I'd better not go there.
But the important thing is that all of it makes him an uninteresting character to hang a movie on. And when at the end he does something heroic, we've already discounted it in our minds. That is not to say that Walt, and Eastwood's portrayal of him, is not without some worthwhile moments. When he accepts an invitation to his Hmong neighbor's banquet, celebrating the birth of a son, he does make some cute (to us) mistakes, such as patting the head of a boy (a Hmong no-no).
The story of the film is built around a Hmong gang that tries to induct a young teenager into their world - something that he won't do - by making him steal Walt's cherry 1972 Gran Torino. His family wants to make amends by having the boy, Thao, work for Walt. Meanwhile Thao's teenage sister, a wonderfully mouthy first-time actress named Sue Lor, acts as interpreter and would-be friend to Walt, even though he fights her at every turn.
In any case, the people in "Gran Torino" are either all good or all bad. And there isn't much else happening; the plot is nothing but a straight line leading to what we know will be a confrontation between Walt and the gang. It only remains to be seen just how that confrontation will play out. And, surprisingly for an Eastwood-directed movie, there are too many repeated shots and some bad choreography in staging the gang fights. And if Walt has to mow his patch of front lawn one more time in the movie he won't have any grass left at all.